In Power of Perceptions, we discussed how one’s internal perceptions can help shape one’s identity. Today, we will explore the power of external messaging, which has influenced the broad acceptance of gay-identified people and gay rights. In a recent interview, Erin Brownback, on Communicating God’s Design for Family, talks about the power of messaging and how it impacts social change in society. Her research has focused on four movements in the last 50 years that have effectively brought about social change: the Civil Rights Movement, the Gay Rights Movement, the Anti-Smoking Campaign, and United Nations’ Act 21 on Environment. Messaging and branding are crucial components in swaying public opinion. Those who promote a cause or issue are very intentional and strategic in their messaging.
Over the last 30+ years, we can trace the impact of messaging used by the Gay Rights Movement. Their goals were clearly laid out in the 1987 white paper The Overhauling of Straight America by Marshall Kirk and Erastes Pill. They stated that the primary goal of the gay rights movement has been to “desensitize the American public concerning gays and gay rights.” Let’s look at five key goals laid out to accomplish this task:
Become visible: “By talking about gays and gayness as loudly and often as possible.” To accomplish this, they focused their messaging through the media of film and television. In the 1980s and 1990s, bi-sexual, lesbian and gay characters began to emerge in prime time shows such as Roseanne, Ellen, and Will & Grace. Movies such as Fried Green Tomatoes, Boys Don’t Cry, and Birdcage have enlightened viewers to the plight of gay, lesbian and transsexual people.
Look like victims: “Gays will be portrayed as victims, not as aggressive challengers.” The message that was promoted is “born gay/born this way,” therefore making a person powerless to change their attractions or behaviors. Additionally, gays and lesbians were to be portrayed as victims of job loss, unfair housing practices, bullying and humiliation, based solely on their sexual identity. This provoked empathy among straight America to become protectors of gay Americans and be moved to defend their safety and rights.
Look normal: “Begin to paint gay men, women and bi-sexual people as pillars of society.” This was done by creating an honor roll of historical gay and bi-sexual men and women. The list includes names such as Socrates, Shakespeare, Alexander the Great, Alexander Hamilton, Michelangelo, Walt Whitman, Sappho and Gertrude Stein. Sitcom shows have done a good job of helping introduce the world to gay characters such as Will Truman (Will & Grace), who played a level-headed voice of reason; or Ellen Morgan, a responsible bookstore owner coming to terms with her sexuality in the 1994-1998 sitcom Ellen.
Look like heroes: We have seen openly gay politicians such as Harvey Milk and Barney Frank recognized as courageous folk heroes. Current openly gay-identified celebrities such as Neil Patrick Harris, Anderson Cooper, and Ellen DeGeneres are well-respected, loved American icons.
Villainize the opposition: “Make those who oppose gays and gay rights look like villains.” The main goal is to depict anyone who opposes the cause as hateful, intolerant and even criminal. We are seeing this played out in communities across America where bakeries and florists are being sued for refusing services to gay and lesbian couples.
The Gay Rights Movement has been both intentional and strategic in promoting their messaging. I agree with Ms. Brownback when she states, “The average person is not intentionally trying to redefine gender, sexuality, marriage, and family. They are trying to sit on God’s throne to be God over their own life and are willing to do so at the cost of God’s intended design for sexuality, gender, marriage and the family.” The standard ideology is that one’s feelings matter more than anything, and in most cases, anyone else. This is the postmodern mindset (read more about it here), which is prevalent among the millennial and Z generations.
In my next post, we will move forward, looking at two other external forces that have influenced the wide acceptance of LGBT people and gay rights within Western culture. In an upcoming post, we will also look at counter messaging that can impact individuals to return to a Biblical worldview.
Thanks for sharing my journey.